Archive for November, 2017

Service of Self Restraint

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Photo: jbsa.mil

Many stretch their money to give a little or big something to family and friends at this time of year. If you don’t put self restraint to work, you literally pay the price. I had a great idea for a gift for 2 good friends but to implement it meant spending a ridiculous sum. It’s not every day you think of the perfect gift for people who have everything but common sense said “move on.” I did so far.

Photo: foodiesnyc.com

There’s a new bakery that also sells sandwiches and salads near my office. I’ve been in twice to reconnoiter and I’ve left empty handed. One small beautiful pastry, that may or may not be tasty, costs what a scrumptious, though not as glam, cake does at Trader Joe’s. The price of an éclair, gone in two bites–far smaller than standard size–is $4.95.

Photo: yelp.com

I love flowers but daily pass by the many delis that sell tempting sunflowers and roses in peach, yellow and magenta. It makes no sense to buy them for myself. In summer, our apartment gets too hot when we’re not home so they don’t last long and in winter, the shock of the overheated apartment, when they come in from the cold, kills them pronto. And anyway, I have a collection of orchids, many of which, as I write, show signs of blossoms to come. When they bloom in winter I’m enchanted. In spring I cut daffodils, lilacs, peonies and daisies.

Self restraint isn’t any easier if faced with dietary restrictions. It rarely fails: people are forced to give up things they most love to eat. Was anyone advised to avoid grouse or liver ? [the two foods I most dislike].

Are you good at self-restraint? What are your tricks for avoiding temptation?

Photo: cartoonmovement.com

Service of a Happy Surprise When a Stranger Takes a Minute to Help

Monday, November 27th, 2017

 

Photo:theawesomedaily.com

There’s plenty to gripe about but I want to write about two positive things because you don’t want to hear about my attempt to get to Brooklyn by subway on a recent weekend. Embarrassing how nonexistent were communications that day between the track repair, motorman and station staff for a city the size of NY. We’ve never lived in such a well-connected world and I’ve rarely seen an example of such incompetence as happened that Saturday. Even the relatively new electronic messaging machines were out of order in all stations, bad timing or bad planning? There are NYC neighborhoods, such as Red Hook Brooklyn, where people lose their jobs because city transport consistently prevents them from arriving on time. A disgrace.

Photo: 123rf.com

This is why I especially appreciated what happened on a Metro-North train recently. The doors had closed at our upstate N.Y. station and the train was about to move south when over the loudspeaker the conductor said loud and clear, “We’ve got a runner!” That could have meant lots of things [had someone robbed a passenger and was the person running away? I watch too many “Blue Bloods” re-runs.] But in this case he’d observed a passenger racing from the parking area towards the steps to the train platform. Had he missed this one, the runner would have had two hours to wait for the next train. I trust everyone else appreciated, as I did, the one minute wait so he could travel with us.

Photo: ediblemanhattan.com

In another instance, I was about to leave for the station to meet my husband when over the office loudspeaker we were told that all elevators were stopped until the fire department checked out a smoke condition on the roof. This meant that I was probably going to be late arriving at the gate for our train at Grand Central Terminal because I couldn’t drag my suitcase down 11 flights of stairs.

“Big deal,” say you, because all the people you know carry a mobile phone. Not my husband. I knew he was at the Oyster Bar and I called there. I described him and his suitcase and the approximate location I knew he’d be seated to the woman who picked up the phone and she found him and gave him the message. Wow.

We’re all in such a rush or so involved in our own world we often don’t stop to do something meaningful for a stranger. Do you have any good examples of strangers helping others?

Photo qsb.stanford.edu

Service of Disregarding the Obvious: Laziness, Stupidity or What about Disengaged Travel and Real Estate Agents?

Monday, November 20th, 2017

Photo: business insider

News of two incidents fell into my lap at once involving agents, one travel, and the other real estate. Both could have caused costly inconveniences.

  • The first customer immediately discovered the omission made by the travel agent yet the agent fought tooth and nail not to fix it.
  • Luckily, in the second instance, the customer found the alarming basic oversights of the real estate agent before damage was done.

 Up, Up and Away–Almost

Photo: 123rf.com

A well travelled friend, Mary Joyce Smith–not her real name–has used the same travel agent for decades but the semi-retired expert was out of town when she needed to book a flight to Japan via LA. So instead Smith used a nationally known agency and was dismayed by the lackadaisical, inadequate service.

The tickets and itinerary came back with the name “Mary Smith.” Her middle name was missing. She asked for the addition of Joyce. She wanted her documents to match the name on her passport and official documents, especially important when travelling internationally in an age of hacking and stringent Homeland Security measures.

The agent told her, “I called Japan Airlines and they say it doesn’t matter.” [In the time this took, if she really called the airlines, she could have done what had to be done to add “Joyce.”]

More important: it mattered to Mary Joyce Smith, the kind of customer you want to have because she flies thousands of miles a year. She didn’t want the omission to delay her at airport security but really, she was the customer and the reason should not have mattered to the agent..

After numerous calls through “press one, press two” hell—she reached a supervisor who asked, “Why would they have left off Joyce? Of course it should be on the documents.” Nevertheless she received yet another email from the original agent who clearly has a hearing problem when it comes to customer requests. “The missing middle name doesn’t matter,” she repeated.

I was with Smith when she got this message and knew something was up as her lips tightened, her cheeks became slightly red and she rolled her eyes in irritation.

Open and Shut Case

Photo: thebalance.com

Another friend is selling his weekend house. On his return after a Sunday showing by a substitute real estate agent, he discovered one of the doors was left wide open to the elements, uninvited wild creatures great and small as well as humans. She also left lights on all over the house. What if he hadn’t returned until Friday?

The usual agent said she’d given strict instructions to the substitute—such as that the owners aren’t there during the week. But did she have to also tell the woman to close doors and turn out the lights? You wouldn’t need to go to real estate school to know this.

Why would someone in a service business fight a customer so hard when a fix is simple? How could an agency put a flake in charge of the security of a person’s home? As for both agents, is their approach due to laziness, stupidity or are they disengaged and in the wrong jobs? Can you share examples of fabulous agents?

Photo: thegrindstone.com

 

 

Service of Name Changes, Deliberate & Not

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

Photo: yelp.com

A recent weekly conference call began with many admitting that they were often called by other names, Roberta for Ramona; Maxine for Francine and for me, a mispronunciation: Gee-Anne for gene. I’ve previously written that some call my husband Homer, Horace.

But some change their names on purpose–my aunt, for example. She had been known as Lili until she was in her 70s when out of the blue she insisted on Elisabeth, also a nice name, but hard for friends and family to get used to. I never learned why the change.

Photo: poshmark.com

Maybe the itch has grown up as 70 seems to be the magic number. Coach, at 76, is Tapestry now. Execs at the company that began as a high end handbag manufacturer [vintage bag at right] said it wanted to change its corporate image to reflect the luxury brands it had acquired–Stuart Weitzman and Kate Spade.

According to a Reuters feature I read in the New York Post, Coach chief exec Victor Luis responded to criticism of the change and choice of name on social media by saying: “At the end of the day some of the social media reaction is misplaced because people think we are changing the name of the Coach brand, which we are not doing. It’s really about creating a new corporate identity for Coach as a house of brands.”

The Reuters article continued: “Coach, however, lost some shine in recent years in part due to the financial recession and increased online shopping. The company is trying to regain its former glory by buying new brands, keeping a tight lid on discounting and pulling back from department stores.”

As for that tight lid on discounters, I just bought a classic pair of Coach-brand loafers at T.J. Maxx at a very comfortable price.

I kept thinking of the $millions spent over decades to make the Coach brand familiar and admired by many. It, Spade and Weitzman will still appear on shoes and fashion as Tapestry is the corporate umbrella. Wise minds in the C-suite had clearly lost faith in the power of the Coach name. Some reporters covering the Coach story reminded their audiences that Google’s new corporate name is Alphabet. Have you heard anyone call it that?

Photo: youtube

Reminds me of some of the bridges around NYC—I think “59th Street” and “Triborough” not “Koch” or “Kennedy.” I adapted well to the Met Life Building taking over for what once was the Pan Am building, no doubt because of the Met Life’s Snoopy dog connection. [That they deep sixed the spokesdog is another matter.] Met Life no longer owns the building but is a major tenant so its name remains.

What do you do when people call you by the wrong name? Do you know adults who have changed their names [and I don’t mean through marriage]. Do you think a venerable name in fashion should change its corporate name—does it show lack of faith in the brand—or that it doesn’t matter as the public’s memory is short? How long will it take for New Yorkers to remember the changed names of buildings and bridges?

Photo: stuartweitzman.com

Service of Antidotes to Decorating and Fashion Insecurities

Monday, November 13th, 2017

Alexandra & Michael Miller, Everyman Works, Brooklyn

Americans’ insecurities about decorating their homes is well documented. Google the subject: you’ll see. I know this first hand from interviewing retailers and interior designers over years, starting with a stint eons ago at Art & Antiques Magazine. Fine antique shop owners had a heck of a time fighting a fear of being different. For starters, people dread unsolicited feedback from friends and mothers-in-law, as in “Why did you choose THAT style, color or pattern?” on walls and upholstery to china. Frame shops thrive when called in to fill a new house with art because a homeowner doesn’t know where to start [and perhaps would like someone else to blame?]

Renee Weiss Chase, Cloth2Clay, Collingswood, N.J.

The good news: According to Newton’s third law, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” I maintain that there are those who bend over backwards to achieve a special look in their homes filled with visual surprises that they love—that are the decorative equivalent of a squeeze of lemon or lime to perfect a dish or drink. And these people are in luck: American-made decorative accents, photography, sculpture and furniture will be exhibited this weekend at the Brooklyn Museum at my client’s American Fine Craft Show Brooklyn. [The Eastern Parkway subway stop is literally steps from the museum door and there’s a large parking lot.]

Lori Kaplan, NY jeweler

Does the same self-doubt apply to fashion? I’ve not studied the industry so I can rely only on my own experience and observations: A remarkable accent—scarf, jewelry, hat or jacket–on a classic ensemble brightens the wearer whose posture and expression beam with joy and confidence. Imagine giving such a bonus with your holiday presents this season. One Brooklyn Museum member, a loyal craft show visitor and successful business owner told me: “My whole wardrobe this year was from [last year’s] show. ”

Why do you think so many fear decorating their homes? Do you? What is one of your favorite fashion accessories? Where did you find it or was it a gift? Do you explore fine craft shows as a resource for unusual, handsome gifts and additions to your home and wardrobe?

 

Milliner Karen Morris, Minneapolis, Minn.

Catherine Joseph, C Joseph NY, Huntington

Furniture maker Bok Read, Media, Pa.

Service of When Simple Things Confuse

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

I wonder if I live on a different planet sometimes. To illustrate what I mean, I’ve photographed a few signs and a sales pitch that I’ve recently noticed or received. I cover communications—mostly poor–in many of my posts.

On a bus at night this week I looked up from what I was reading to see where I was. I admired the new lit street sign [photo above], but from where I sat, I could only see the Avenue—the street number, which is what I needed to know, was hidden. Did the designer think of that?

I know why real estate people do it, because the avenue may have more cachet as an address to the building owner, but it has always confounded me when a door that opens many paces up a NYC street has an address referencing an Avenue. I’m surprised that it’s allowed. The photo, right, shows 350 Lexington Ave. quite a bit up on 40th Street facing west.

I got a letter from Stig Abell, whom I don’t know, asking me to subscribe to the TLS with not a hint of what it was anywhere. I bet every reader of this blog knows what TLS is but on arrival home late one night, I didn’t. Because I was planning to write this column, instead of tossing the letter immediately, I looked it up: The Times Literary Supplement. I guess it was one of those “If you have to ask, you’re not worthy of it,” sales pitches.

I didn’t snap a shot of a poster that was at bus stops all over town a few months ago—and I couldn’t find an image of it on the Internet either so you’ll have to believe me. It told the reader to fly out of EWR because of convenience etc. I’ve lived in NYC most of my life and had no idea where EWR was so the poster was wasted on me—I’ve never been good at acronyms anyway. I later learned in a Facebook conversation that it refers to Newark Airport as well as why the airport uses the letters EWR. Because the letter N is reserved for all things Navy, it cannot be used to identify airports.  EWR refers to some of the other letters in the word nEWaRk.

Have you been left in the dark due to confusing signs or mysterious sales pitches?

Photo: airportparkingguides.com

Service of Every Little Bit Helps: Bard College Serious about Education for All

Monday, November 6th, 2017

Photo: bard.edu

I increasingly admire Bard College. We have enjoyed concerts at The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, and outdoors in summer before that, for some 20+ years and most recently, during parent’s weekend. We attended a concert at which the students played. [We have most often heard the American Symphony Orchestra replaced by The Orchestra Now, but the student performances are always a treat.] Leon Botstein, conductor, music director and president, reminded the audience made up, I suspect,  of many music lovers like us who had no undergrads in the game, that while each of the students major in music, they all have a second major. So smart for a college known for its outstanding creative offerings. So practical. So necessary today.

Bard president Leon Botstein confers associate degree to member of prison college initiative. Photo: dailyfreeman.com

The college is innovative in more than the arts. Its college program for prisoners made headlines in 2015 when the prison debating team beat Harvard’s. And now Bard has launched a “microcollege,” at the Prospect Heights public library. Leslie Brody wrote about it in The Wall Street Journal in “Bard Launches Free ‘Microcollege,’ in Brooklyn.” The free two year college is for “low-income applicants who haven’t sought degrees due to the price tag or personal hardships.”

The director of both programs–prison and library–is Max Kenner, VP for institutional initiatives at Bard. He calls access to college in this country “a catastrophic failure.” The “intellectual power of prison inmates,” that surprises many and frustrates Kenner, inspired the idea for the microcollege. Kenner mentioned never-ending jokes about his beloved prison initiative with “a punch line something about a captive audience.”

As in the prison program, Bard instructors will teach small seminars. Graduates will receive a liberal arts associate degree. The students will all be from Brooklyn, the program starts in January, 2018 and the goals: To grow to 64 students and that the graduates continue their studies to earn a four year degree elsewhere.

Do you also admire pioneering programs like this? Should it work, do you think it will become a template for other colleges to begin to chip away at one of the many closed doors to education?

Photo: dance.bard.edu

Service of What To Do About Identity Theft

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

Photo: Teachprivacy.com

The more I read about data breaches especially of companies, like Equifax, that are supposed to guard our personal information and countless subsequent almost daily articles about what to do about it, the more anxious I get. After a scampered through Tara Siegel Bernard’s excellent piece in The New York Times, I wasn’t one bit relieved. In “Is It Time to Consider an Identity Protection Service?” in addition to “not necessarily,” I kept thinking “fox in the henhouse!” In 2014, the most recent year for which there are statistics, she said that 17.6 million were victims of identity theft where perpetrators tried to enter bank or credit card accounts.

And just as I thought I was up to date and that it was time to write about this I read Michael Rapoport and AnnaMaria Andriotis’ article in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, “States Quiz Equifax on Disclosure,” which reports that “Attorneys general in at least five states are looking into why credit-reporting firm Equifax Inc. didn’t tell the public for nearly six weeks about the massive data breach that potentially compromised the personal information of 148.5 million Americans.”

Photo: itsecuritygury.org

Back to Bernard. She wrote about services such as LifeLock and MyIDCare, so-called protection services, and the news wasn’t reassuring. A security analyst who works for a tech research firm Avivah Litan, told Bernard that she felt these services were a waste of money.

Bernard continued: “But these services vary greatly, both in reputation and in offerings, according to fraud and privacy experts. Signing up also requires consumers to entrust yet another corporate entity with their most sensitive data — many of the same details stolen in the Equifax breach — while entering into legal agreements filled with fine print that leads consumers to give up many rights.”

More distressing: “Some of the more prominent services also have questionable histories. The Government Accountability Office counts at least 16 federal enforcement actions taken against providers of identity theft protection—financial services among them.” Bernard reported that Lifelock didn’t secure client’s “most sensitive data,” and promoted false advertising, resulting in a $100 million fine paid the FTC. That was in 2015. This year Equifax and Transunion settled “a regulator’s allegations that they tricked consumers into paying for credit scores of questionable value.” Together they paid $23 million.

Bernard explained what the protection services do. They hire the big services, [such as Equifax, TransUnion and Experian], to look for any changes in activity such as new credit cards, a big increase in what you owe or a late payment so you hear about it after the damage is done. They also claim to scan and monitor a whole list of things such as misuse of medical ID and Social Security numbers, but “they aren’t necessarily going to prevent a crime.”

Photo: feex.com

Bernard added: “But consumers need to be able to trust that the companies will protect the information they are scanning for. Identity Guard asks consumers to provide 26 pieces of personal data, though Mr. [Johan] Roets says that data remains on its operational servers and never touches the internet.”

Photo: pixelmaids.com

The companies that specialize in helping once the dastardly deed is done, some with private investigators with limited power of attorney, don’t come cheap. IDShield charges $899 at first and a monthly rate of either $9.95 or $19.95 reported Bernard.

A credit freeze costs nothing and Bernard said will foil some fraud as it prevents anyone opening credit cards or loans in your name but does nothing to avoid “takeover of financial accounts and cellphones,” where plenty of activity occurs, nor does it thwart fraud relating to tax refunds and social security payments. I know three people who were told they’d already submitted their taxes. Scofflaws submitted early requesting substantial refunds. Someone had stolen their identity and submitted tax information early.

I just read on artforum.com “Hauser & Wirth, London-based dealers Simon Lee, Thomas Dane, Rosenfeld Porcini, and Laura Bartlett, and Tony Karman, the president of Expo Chicago, have all been targeted by hackers or had money stolen from them in the midst of transactions over artworks, according to a report in the Art Newspaper. The most common form of fraud so far consists of criminals hacking into an art dealer’s e-mail account and monitoring incoming and outgoing correspondence.” Eventually the hackers slip in to the email conversation pretending to be the art dealer and instruct the recipient to trash the first invoice and wire payment to their account. They disappear once the money arrives.

Bernard lists 10 steps to safeguard yourself from fraud. They range from opening a “My Social Security Account” with the Social Security Administration to prevent a thief from redirecting your benefits to dedicating one computer for all financial activity.

What have you done to protect your identity? Are you concerned or do you think it’s much ado about nothing? Do you know anyone who has had their identity breached? Do you feel that the guardians of your credit information that have potentially let it loose in the land are culpable and should be held responsible to protect you for free?

Photo: grahamsl.com

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